On Sept. 14, Russia will hold one of its biggest military exercises since the Cold War. Tens of thousands of military personnel are expected to participate in the Zapad 17 drill, set to take place over seven days in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and Russia.
In the Suwalki Gap, the 64-mile border between Poland and Lithuania, tensions are high. This is the only border the Baltic states share with the rest of NATO. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, some fear that the three countries (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) could be next. Taking the Suwalki Gap would cut them off from their European NATO allies.
The region’s historic ethnic tensions, going back more than 100 years, could also be exploited, as demonstrated in Donbass, South Ossetia, Abkhazia in Georgia, and Transnistria in Moldova. The militarized environment created by the deployment of Russian land troops and the Russian Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad is a strong deterrent to any attempt NATO might undertake to kick out Russia from the Baltic states and the Suwalki Gap, should Moscow invade the region.
I spent two weeks in the Suwalki Gap to get an early look at NATO’s response to the Russian deployment, which some analysts believe is there to stay.
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